While on vacation in Jackson Hole, I received an email from Jeremy’s Aunt Gracie requesting marriage advice for the upcoming wedding of her son, Malaki, and future daughter-in-law, Cara. This is a tall order, because, for the most part, summing advice up into a tidy little sentence about a complex thing like marriage seems tad pat. So because brevity is not my strong suit, I decided I would tell Malaki and Cara a story about our marriage, and consequently what I’ve learned instead. It goes like this:
When Jeremy and I were first married, he told me his Grandpa Lehman’s last words of advice to him were, “Obey God in the little things.”
For me, because it hadn’t been made personal yet, this was underwhelming advice.
But now I understand all of life’s big things are made up entirely of those “little things.”
The other night, Jeremy and I were in bed, when he committed the ultimate, mac daddy, most serious act of betrayals.
We had an argument earlier that day. Jeremy was not necessarily mad at me, but more like “unsettled-and-I-don’t-know-why-but-it’s-not-good” at me, which is so much worse because there’s nothing to talk about or resolve.
We got into bed and he started our show. The show we had recently made a ritual out of watching together every single night. A show I was so utterly smitten with that I wrote blog posts about it on two separate occasions, asked anyone breathing if they had watched it, and talked about it whenever given the opportunity. Jeremy and I had jokes about it. We’d quote it the next day, and I’d draw important life parallels and lessons from the story line. It was kind of a big deal. Given that we were arguing and had a generally exhausting evening, I was so looking forward to our show. Perhaps it would even bring us together. Maybe we would talk afterwards. Maybe this show would fix all of our problems forever and ever, amen. But then ten minutes in…
And listen, it’s not like I don’t think he was legitimately tired. He probably was, but one thing was certain, this was no accident. Had everything been great between us, he would have stayed awake or at least suggested we not watch a show at all because he was too tired. No, Jeremy had fallen asleep on purpose. He denies this mostly because he didn’t plot this out like a villain and think to himself, “you know how I can hurt her?” But still, it felt like an unconscious jab.
And I was furious.
At first, I tried to take the high road. I turned to him and loudly asked, “Are you punishing me for earlier?” with a hoity toity arrogance. But he didn’t answer because = sleeping.
So I got even more angry. I thundered out of bed and turned my light on to “read,” but really, I just hoped the light would disrupt his sleep. If he woke up mad, he couldn’t actually prove I was trying to disrupt him. I was just reading. Just like I couldn’t prove he had fallen asleep on purpose.
But he wasn’t disrupted. He just kept sleeping on, all rude like.
So I started to think of other ways I could hurt him. Ways that would sting as much as he stung me. I’d see his passive aggressive game, I told myself, and raise him fifty. And then I had a thought. A wonderful, awful, terrible thought.
Our bedroom is always warm in the summer months, so we keep a fan in the screened door to blow the cool air in. Because I have allergies, it gets closed prematurely sometimes at 2 or 3am and Jeremy wakes up in a sweaty stupor sometime after that and can’t fall back to sleep very well. I, on the other hand, can sleep just fine. It was only 10pm. I moved the fan. I shut the door. I got into bed. The temperature started to rise. I couldn’t sleep, so I started to cook up other ways I could hurt Jeremy until he noticed enough to talk to me.
After about ten minutes of this, I felt a “little thing” nudge.
The nudge was the recognition that I was acting like a complete monster and begged the question of: would all of this hurting really make me feel better?
If Jeremy didn’t get good sleep, wouldn’t that just mean he also wouldn’t have the energy to resolve our problem tomorrow? Was I kind of hurting both of us by trying to hurt him? I could ignore the nudge and have my revenge. Or I could accept the invitation into something that resembled grace and forgiveness. I knew which one I should choose, it was a matter of being strong and humble enough to choose it. I decided that – fine, I would stop wishing terrible sleep on Jeremy and instead wish him the best sleep possible. I pretended that whatever I wished for Jeremy when I was mad at him would be exactly what I would get three fold. This is how I disciplined myself to follow through with grace when I didn’t think he deserved it. You work with what you’ve got, man.
“Fine, God,” I said. I’ll accept your invite. “But you need to know I do NOT want to.”
I got up, put the fan back in the window, looked at Jeremy and thought, “I am doing this for God, okay? Not you. Let’s just get that straight…but I pray you get good sleep and feel good in the morning and have sweet dreams and all that, and also, I love you,” and then I turned off the light, snuggled down in the blankets, and instantly fell asleep.
I got up the next morning and braced myself for a chilly morning between Jeremy and I, but because I was proud of my decision the night before, it created an openness in my demeanor. The first thing Jeremy did was hug me. The kind of hug that communicates warmth and love and grace. If I hadn’t put the fan back in the window I would have been ashamed. But instead, I hugged him back, tight, accepting his gift when I didn’t deserve it.
You can speculate all you want, but I bet that hug wouldn’t have happened if I had let the room heat up in spite. We would have worked it out eventually, but I bet we would have had to fight harder for it.
Where marriage is concerned, I tweak Grandpa’s original advice of “obey God in the little things” to “honor your spouse in the little things.”
And then I add my own caveat, “…even if they are kind of being an asshole.”
And that is what marriage is all about.
The same night we got the email requesting marriage advice, and only a few days after the falling-asleep-during-our-show debacle, Jeremy and I toyed around with what advice we might give, and then we promptly met an old man in a bar named Bob Adams who told us his beloved wife had just died and could he give us a bit of marriage advice? We eagerly agreed and leaned in, very much ready to gobble up his sage wisdom.
Bob Adams said, “Don’t ever go to bed angry.”
We’re working on it.